Category: analysis

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Don’t Believe Housing Market Lies

I once again see disturbing trends rearing their ugly heads in the U.S. housing market. Twelve years ago, I warned about the housing bubble long before it burst—then living in the Washington, D.C.-metro area. Now my vantage point is San Diego, where home prices soar and sales (finally) start to stagnate.

Justification, set against measurable trends, often is a fantastic measure that something is amiss.

Metaphor: In film “The Big Short“, set during last decade, a Florida real estate agent drives around a group of Wall Street investors trying to discern whether or not there is a housing bubble. As they pass property after property for sale, she explains: “The market is in an itsy-bitsy little gully right now”. Eh, yeah. That gully later became a giant sinkhole. This morning, I received a newsletter from a local realtor that claims: “Pending home sales were sluggish in April as low supply reared its head”. Crazy thing, I see plenty of inventory for sale—and for increasingly longer times today than four or five months ago. The newsletter’s assertion rings like a justification worth concern. 

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Amazon Across America

My first reaction to Amazon buying Whole Foods is “Huh?” Few brands could be any more different. The online retailer is all about giving customers the most for the least amount spent, while the grocer is the pricey purview of the alt-organic lifestyle elite. No moment is better metaphor for Whole Foods’ clientele than the exchange I heard between a thirtysomething couple standing at the deli holding chicken luncheon meat. “Is it free range?” the women asked her husband. It had to be, or she wouldn’t buy. They argued. I silently chuckled: luncheon meat—not a bird! It’s all pressed meat, Honey. You do know that?

But from another perspective, and one transcending retail store presence, are other considerations, like brand affinity and buyer demographics. For the first, Amazon may be all about value, but in an increasingly middle-class and well-to-do demographic kind of way, particularly among city dwellers. Despite sharing similar cut-throat margin, expansive business philosophies with Walmart, Amazon doesn’t carry the same stigma among the socially conscious “better-thans”. For the second, who do you think plunks down 99 bucks a year for Prime membership or can’t wait for two-day free delivery or is too busy to go to the store to buy groceries? Without hard numbers to back the supposition, I’d bet there is lots of existing and potential regular shopper overlap among these customers and those who walk Whole Foods’ aisles. 

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Bill Gates’ Backdoor Policy

I see something disingenuous about Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates supporting the government’s demands that Apple selectively unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino, Calif. shooters. The former CEO turned philanthropist spoke to the Financial times in an interview posted today. The implications for Microsoft cannot be overstated, and the company’s current chief executive should state corporate policy.

Gates’ position aligns with the government’s: That this case is specific, and isolated, and that the demand would merely provide “access to information”. Here’s the thing: The interviewer asks Gates if he supports tech companies providing backdoors to their smartphones. The technologist deflects: “Nobody’s talking about a backdoor”. Media consultants teach publicly-facing officials to offer non-answers exactly like this one. The answer defines the narrative, not the interviewer’s question. 

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From Amazon’s Bookstore Risk Can Come Great Rewards

There is collective head-scratching across the InterWebs about a Wall Street Journal report that Amazon will open as many as 300, or even 400, stores selling books. The company’s massive success selling ebooks and the cost and selection advantages of warehousing their physical counterparts make the concept seem nonsensical. I contend that it’s brilliant.

Amazon is in process of expanding online services into the purview of local retail, which biggest competitive advantage is immediacy. In conjunction with the $99-per-year Prime program, the online retailer offers faster shipping; same day, and within hours, in some locales. The company increasingly contracts its own carriers, as well. Immediacy requires presence. What better location than a bookstore that also warehouses other goods and provides customer service operations? That’s all without considering the branding opportunities, which, as Apple Store demonstrates, can be huge. 

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If You Can Vote for American Idol on Smartphones, Why Not Presidents?

Over the weekend, my 94 year-old father-in-law asked what I would do to assure that every American who could vote would do so. That was an unexpected question, but one I addressed gingerly. This post is my answer restated for a public venue.

Simple answer: Smartphone. According to PewResearchCenter, nearly 70 percent of Americans own one of the devices, but the number among voting age adults tops 80 percent, according to other estimates. Surely a program could be in place by the 2020 Presidential race, and if lawmakers were truly serious about universal suffrage, a Manhattan-like project could make it happen by the next Mid-terms. 

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What is the Google Free Economy?

Today I posted the third installment of my investigative news analysis series “What Does the ‘Google Free Economy’ Cost You?”, which is being crowdfunded through Byline: “Obituary for the Fourth Estate, Part 1“. The headline derives from a subhead in the first story, which I share here, below the fold.

During the editing, I nearly broke up Part 1 in two to make a third. The first of the pair recaps how the Google Free Economy illuminated a path for new media companies as the Fourth Estate lost its way. Part 2 will look at the rise of social media and how it has fundamentally shifted authority from a small number of editors and reporters to the audience of news consumers. The initial concepts build from my groundbreaking, but largely ignored, June 2009 analysis “Iran and the Internet Democracy“. 

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Please Support My Google Exposé

My mind is divided about Google, or is that Alphabet now? On one hand, I see the company as among the most innovative ever. I highly value many of Google’s products and they enable me to work more efficiently and to accomplish much more in far less time. On another hand, the search and services operation’s business model is hugely disruptive to people like me that generate content that is primarily consumed online. My profession is in shambles, with the “Google free economy” as the primary wrecking ball.

Overnight, I started an investigative report that will, in the early stages, primarily focus on how the information giant’s business disrupts the news media and some other content producers. “What Does the ‘Google Free Economy’ Cost You?” is crowdfunding through Byline. Should I achieve my modest milestone goal—$250 over 40 days—another milestone would follow with larger goal, and the reporting will expand into additional areas of concern, such as privacy or even how Google could influence the outcome of the U.S. 2016 Presidential election. 

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The Paywall Problem

This week the long-dreaded Washington Post renewal email plunked into my inbox. So ends a glorious year of reading the digital newspaper on PC and tablet. My cheap thrill ride is over: “Your subscription will be renewed for a year on Aug. 26, 2015, at the rate of $149/year. As you’ve requested, payments for your subscription to the Post are automatically charged to your credit card”. I requested nothing. The Post imposed auto-renewal, which I cancelled the next day. My sub now ends on August 26.

Twelve months ago, the Post made an amazing email offer, good for just 24 hours: “Get a Full Year of Unlimited Digital Access FOR AS LOW AS JUST $19!” Wow, what a deal. We splurged and went digital on any device for another ten bucks. Washington Post is worth $29 a year—and it’s a good value for $149, too. But all the paywall news sites want that kind of cash or more from me. I’m willing to pay for good journalism, but my budget can’t accommodate them all. 

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Use Drones to Fight Ebola

The world is at war. Ebola is the enemy. Not Islamic State. Not Russia, Israel, Palestine, the United States, or any other nation or peoples you would like to insert here. No country—pardon the word choice—is immune to Ebola. The disease doesn’t care about cultural, political, racial, or religious differences that divide people. The disease indiscriminately attacks everyone.

Ebola should unite us—a global community rallying against a common enemy. But the disease can, already does, divide us. Fear, not infection, is Ebola’s great weapon of mass destruction. In parts of West Africa, farmers abandon crops for fear of infection; yesterday, I heard a BBC radio report claiming as many as 40 percent of farms in some countries. Fear. Fear of infection will divide us unless we unite first. 

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The Day HBO GO is Stand-alone Subscription, I’m Done with Cable

Against the background noise of ridiculous Apple rumors, television ambitions are constant. Apple wants to be a TV network, will build a flat-screen industry-changer, or soon will release stunning new set-top box. Sources are vague; days, months, and years pass devoid of the next big thing.

Today, Aaron Pressman (@ampressman) tweets story: “Apple’s Promised TV Revolution Will Be More Of The Same Crap, Thanks To Terrified Cable & Broadcast Executives” by Karl Bode for TechDirt. My reply: “They should be scared. The day HBO GO is stand-alone subscription, I’m done with cable forever”.

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My First Kindle ebook: Trials, Tribulations, and Triumph

Yesterday, my first ebook published to Amazon, with the strangest of titles, having nearly nothing to do with the contents. In May, I submitted “The Principles of Design” to the bookseller for consideration as a Kindle Single. Singles are curated, short-form works, between 5,000 and 30,000 words. Amazon acts as editor and publisher. Four weeks later to the day, I received a rejection letter, without any explanation.

That put me squarely down the self-publishing path, which is exactly where I didn’t want to be for this first work. Books are a strange frontier to me, a vaguely familiar landscape but alien—like Mars is to Earth. I wanted Amazon to walk me across this domain. Besides, to start, I plan to write mostly shorter non-fiction essays, which look to be perfectly-suited for Kindle Singles. But the rejection email, and realization that editorial approval takes up to a month, changed plans.

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Non-Top-10 List for Journalists

I have come to loathe top-10 lists, and I have stopped writing them. They are a sucker’s play for pageviews, although I have always used top-10s mainly for their presentation value. Now that they’re everywhere and displacing original content, I’ve got something of a personal boycott going (hence, why there have been none from me recently at Betanews). It’s with that introduction I come to maim a top-10 list posted last week. “The truth about the newsroom—straight-up!” offers 10 things reporters “want from [public relations] pitch to coverage”.

Deanna White tweeted about the post, to which I responded after reading: “My list would look nothing like this. If that’s what my peers want, someone pull out journalism’s obituary & run it” (News organizations generally keep prewritten obituaries ready to run the second someone famous enough dies).